On Learning to Breathe

I watched my son learn to swim freestyle today. The crawl, as we laypeople have come to call it. The experience was profound. I actually found myself tearing up and I wasn’t sure why. Come summer, kids swim. It’s all part of the more relaxed, hot weather, long day, lazy, hazy schedule. But it struck me. As so many things do with my youngest child, that I unfortunately took for granted with my older 3. Everything about this guy is a new experience for me, though I’ve been through it all so many times. He’s different, unique, challenging, special, in a word- wonderful. I’ve learned to watch closely with him- and in doing so, I’m learning about myself too. To my older 3 children- I apologize for not learning this sooner, but I applaud you your beautiful strokes. Keep it up.

I can swim. I do fine, but I get easily winded. A friend once pointed out that I’m probably not breathing correctly. Breathing correctly? In and out- how hard could it be? But I can only do a few laps at a time without getting winded. And as watched my son today, I had an “aha” moment. The breathing is really the key. It has to be precise. It has to come at exactly the right juncture, in conjunction with all of these other movements- and if you get it all down the way it’s supposed to be done-It’s actually quite stunning to behold.

At the risk of waxing allegorical, I must say that sometimes I forget to breathe in the course of everyday life- and the consequence is, I’m at risk of drowning. When I do remember to breathe, I don’t always do it correctly. Maybe not at exactly the right moment, maybe I don’t exhale properly, maybe I wait too long, and then I gasp and choke. I can’t catch my breath. Another problem is, if I wait too long, I’ve already reached the point where it’s hard to go back to regulated breathing…I get thrown off course, and it takes me twice a long to get to my original starting point. What if I used the tools I observed today? Making sure that breathing is all part of this uniquely and exquisitely choreographed motion- which allows me to propel forward with, strength, beauty, and grace? What could I achieve?

It occurs to me that the reason I was emotional when I watched my son “get it right” today, is because he has just learned a life lesson that will allow him to become a successful adult. Not only because his tiny, skinny body can now swim many lengths of the pool and he will be able to grow long, sinewy muscles which will allow him to accomplish great things with his body- but because he is no longer at risk of drowning. Literally and figuratively. He is growing up in a world that moves at a pace which is mind boggling to me, he and his peers are hyperaware, and living in highly stressful environments. Now, more than ever, I understand the adage ” sink or swim.” There’s a reason we don’t say “sink or float” and it’s not because of the repetitive “s” sound. Floating require breathing, but proper swimming- truly navigating the waters, and achieving powerful strokes, does.

The Talmud, in the tractate of Kiddushin, teaches that one has a requirement to teach his child to swim. I believe I now have a more profound understanding of this obligation. For in teaching our children to swim- we are literally saving them from drowning- but it’s so much more than that. We are imparting a great life lesson of composure, confidence, self awareness, control, stamina and perseverance-all essential life skills. We are teaching them to breathe. Now the challenge is, we must learn to do the same.

About the Author
Tamar Krantman Weiss is the Executive Producer and musical composer for Modiin's Women In Theater. She has worked as a freelance writer in the past. She lives with her husband and 4 children in Modiin, Israel.
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